Covid19: How to communicate in a crisis using Telegram.


WHO has declared the novel coronavirus as a pandemic and many cities worldwide have been forced in a lockdown mode. While the case fatality rate remains low, there is needless mass hysteria and panic buying. I am not going in specifics, but the hospitals have justifiably planned a footfall reduction to avoid people congregating together.

While it is not precisely a “crisis” but these challenging times have brought in its own dynamics. Twitter is full of posts related to telemedicine and remote working, but these are the initial days, and I’d be curious to see how this is sustained in the long term.

Nevertheless, I am proposing a crisis communication framework to disseminate information clearly and succinctly.

  1. Create a team for centralised communication. For the oncology teams, a representative from each speciality, an infection expert, a communications expert (usually the PR representative from the hospital), technologists and most importantly an oncology nursing specialist. If it is being scaled up at the hospital level, a legal and HR representative.
  2. This centralised team shouldn’t have more than 5-7 people and bring out the regular simple language updates. They need to amplify the messages from central authorities.
  3. This team should be the central and nodal point for communication-related to the employees.
  4. Transparency is the name of the game; if there are detected cases in premises, they should be upfront about it and stress on quarantine measures.
  5. The chaos usually spreads because the administration or the senior employees are unable to debunk the myths around the spread.

Communication with the other stakeholders should be a continuous ongoing exercise.

How should communication be done?

I am very partial towards Telegram. It has several features that can help to scale up communications- real-time, safe, secure and private.

  1. Make a dedicated channel- It can have unlimited subscribers. This channel should serve as a nodal point for dissemination. If you are using social media, this channel can be easily connected to fetch information, potentially avoiding duplication of work. The phone numbers are NOT revealed in the channels (unless you have mutual contacts).
  2. Have a private group for the employees. The bots can easily manage the crowd here. Violators can be warned or even banned from the group without human intervention as the bots automate the management tasks. I have personally managed huge groups- above a thousand people. Telegram also added a feature to slow down the posting, and you can restrict users to post every 10-15 seconds. It helps others to catch up on a fast-moving dynamic situation.
  3. Another advantage of the group would be to increase transparency on how the decisions were arrived at.
  4. The channel frequency can be varied- manually or automatically through bots. You can repeatedly exhort people to wash their hands, every hour, for example! It would be impossible for anyone to post it manually!

It is imperative to communicate with the patients and have a clear line of communication with the front staff, for example. They are usually fielding the queries from anxious families, and it is crucial to direct them accordingly.

Last but not least. The hospitals should take the lead in engaging with the communities and using Telegram to scale up the engagement efforts. It would go a long way to assuage the trust that healthcare sorely needs!

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